Monthly Archives: September 2010

Favourite Quotes: on the mystery of “our deeply strange existence” from scientist David Eagleman

As anyone with even half a braincell tuned into current affairs will know, we are living in an era where humans seem to need the strong seasoning of certainty even more than ever. Militant atheism seems hell bent (pardon the expression, a tad inappropriate in this context, eh what?!) on ramming down our collective throats their conviction that religion is pernicious rubbish. And militant religious fanatics have been turning to their usual tools, honed to a fine art  over many bloodsoaked centuries, of persecution and/or slaughter in the name of whatever faith they aver is ‘the one and only truth’.

How totally refreshed I was, therefore, given our current less than calm and reasonable collective context, to come across a wonderful opinion piece in last week’s New Scientist magazine, from which the following quote is taken:

” But when we reach the end of the pier of everything we know, we find that it only takes us part of the way. Beyond that all we see is uncharted water. Past the end of the pier lies all the mystery about our deeply strange existence: the equivalence of mass and energy, dark matter, multiple spatial dimensions, how to build consciousness, and the big questions of meaning and existence….good scientists are comfortable holding many possibilities at once, rather than committing to a particular story over others. In light of this, I have found myself surprised by the amount of certainty out there….”

 

Where from here?

Where from here?

http://www.flickr.com/photos/patrick-smith-photography/2892650570/sizes/s/in/photostream/

David Eagleman is a neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. His book of ‘possibilian’ tales, Sum, became an international best-seller and is published in 22 languages.

To read the whole of the opinion piece  “Why I am a ‘possibilian'” which I found so refreshing, click HERE.

And now I am away to Amazon to order a copy of Sum which looks to be a most intriguing and stimulating read.

****************

300 words copyright Anne Whitaker/David Eagleman 2010
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

****************

Advertisements

Do you really want to live to be a hundred?

“Yes, life IS precious but maybe you truly can have too much of a good thing…..”

So said commenter Eileen Williams, in response to my guest and fellow writer Joyce Mason’s article on the topic of longevity to which I am happy to be linking at the end of this article.

Ever since the Big Bang, which is the prevailing scientific theory thus far regarding how life originated in the universe, we have been confronted with the reality that creativity and destruction are woven together. Without that monumentally, unimaginably destructive Big Bang, the creative energies which ultimately produced the richly teeming life we have on planet Earth – and probably many other planets as yet undiscovered – would not have come to be.

Each tiny human, little energy flash in space/time, carries that dual spark of positive/negative, creative/destructive power. We have to learn to balance our creativity with our destructiveness – you could argue on the large scale that the whole of human history has been about that grapple. It is simply not realistic to think that we can have light without shadow at any level in our complex world, either at a personal or a collective level.

Every advance brings that duality. At this point in our history, humans from the post-Second World War Baby Boomer generation onwards are having increasingly to face a dilemma never faced before by human beings. It is this: amazing advances in public health and general medical care have enabled those of us who live in the West and increasingly in the East,  routinely to achieve life spans which were rare in previous centuries.

My grandparents almost all lived into their eighties. This was unusual for their generation. Now, people routinely live into their nineties. This is fine for many people who live to a healthy old age, then die suddenly. We all aspire to this. But this great advance carries a very dark shadow. An increasing reality, and one which is set to consume a huge proportion of the economic resources of  affluent countries, is that quality medical care now available for people in later life is prolonging many lives well beyond their ability to contribute to society, family life or their own happiness.

 

Duality: light and dark

Duality: light and dark

http://epistemic-forms.com/Visual-Thinking.htm

What do we do about this? It is an issue which we simply have to grapple with and resolve somehow. Shortly after finishing this article I will be heading for my local hospital to visit a dear old friend in her nineties, frail and ill, depressed and having lost entirely the spark which her freedom to get about had given her, allied to her own indomitable spirit, well into old age. She just wants to go. But medical care of high quality is helping to keep her alive.

Over the last few years I have heard some awful stories about the prolonging of lives which had, by any common sense measure, reached their natural end. A vivid but by no means uncommon example of this can be seen in the story of a friend’s grandmother in her late eighties who had a severe heart attack and would not have survived. But resuscitation techniques dragged her from the brink to endure a miserable, ill eighteen months before she eventually died.

I am horrified to think that I or my husband, in old age, could be hauled from the edge of dying to an existence in some miserable twilight until death eventually could not be staved off any more. We have living wills. But would the paramedics called to an emergency if one of us had a severe stroke, know that we do not want any intervention which would drag us back to a life of severe incapacity?

I think that in our materialist society the essence of what is a complex and multi-faceted issue is this: we are culturally afraid of death and do not know at this point how to face or manage it with compassion, wisdom, respect and common sense. We were better at coping with death hundreds of years ago than we are now. Religious faith is on the wane, secularism on the rise, and the tyranny of too much choice and too many options is increasingly holding us all to ransom.

Well, what are we going to do about it?

Dealing with end-of-life issues is very much a topical issue here in Scotland at present, with this month seeing a further presentation of an End of Life Bill to our Parliament by that gritty, courageous individualist and Independent Member of the Scottish Parliament, Margo MacDonald, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease. She wants the right for herself and others to end their own lives with dignity and with the assistance of  the medical profession.

There is considerable opposition to the Bill right across the board, as can be seen from just one recent article:

http://www.christian.org.uk/news/end-of-life-bill-could-bring-death-tourism-to-scotland/

But Margo, as she is affectionately known here in Scotland, has done us all a favour by triggering a nation-wide debate and discussion on the issue of what we do about end of life issues. Economically, socially, and personally, we have to find a better way of managing the issue of how we face death in general and individual’s deaths in particular. It is too costly at every level to keep sticking our collective heads in the sand. We are fortunate indeed in the UK to have a thriving Hospice movement which offers wonderful palliative care to people who have reached the last stages of their lives. But there is not enough of that type of care.

We cannot live forever. We all have to die sometime. So what are we going to do about this huge problem?

While you think about it, check out that fine writer and fellow Baby-Boomer Joyce Mason’s thoughtful piece

Do You Really Want to Live to be a Hundred?

****************

1000 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2010
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

Jupiter/Uranus in Pisces do religion: Countdown to 19 September

You don’t have to be a very sage astrologer to work out that one of the likely backdrops to this upcoming 19th September 2010 Jupiter/Uranus conjunction at 29 degrees Pisces (the second of three during 2010/11) is going to be that perennial sustainer, challenger, inspirer, executor and persecutor of the human race – religion.

And sure enough, it is shaping up in bold primary colours already.

A major row has been rumbling in the USA since the end of August 2010 over the proposed location of  a Muslim religious centre close to the site of Ground Zero.Check out:

Last week the UK’s most prominent and respected scientist Stephen Hawking grandly announced that God was not necessary in coming up with an explanation for the origins of the Universe. This could be found in the laws of physics. The book “Grand Design”, set for release on September 9, has him saying: “because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing….”

New Hubble Image: Carina Nebula

New Hubble Image: Carina Nebula

In recent days, it has become world-wide news that the pastor of a small church in Florida, Terry Jones, is planning a less than conciliatory act of remembrance of the 9/11 atrocity by burning 200 copies of the Koran on the 11 September. This plan has been roundly condemned from USA Secretary of  State Hilary Clinton downwards. See http://edition.cnn.com/2010/US/09/08/florida.quran.reaction/#fbid=lNzACjrNQ7c&wom=false

(NOTE: it just caught my eye in Google’s news headlines as I was signing off after publishing this post and doing some emails, that the pastor in question has called off his protest. How interesting that this should occur on the very day that Jupiter slips from combative, fiery Aries into the soothing waters of Pisces….)

And here in the UK, that anti-messiah and self-appointed High Priest of Atheism, the scientist and polemical writer Richard Dawkins, had planned to arrest the Pope when he visits the UK during 16-19 September, just at the exact point of the second Jupiter/Uranus conjunction.

“Campaigners supported by Prof Richard Dawkins, the prominent atheist, had hoped to have Benedict XVI held over his supposed cover-up of child abuse within the Roman Catholic Church.

But leaders of the Protest the Pope coalition now admit that the Pontiff cannot be arrested as Britain acknowledges him as a head of state, granting him sovereign immunity from criminal prosecution.” Read more

The fingerprints of the Jupiter/Uranus combination in Pisces are all over these events. First of all, Jupiter and Uranus are planets associated with the ‘masculine’ dimension of life regardless of a person’s sex: outgoing and action-oriented.

Then, if we think of the mythology of Jupiter and Uranus, we have the arrogant and combative Olympian god Jupiter, who was always right, enjoyed laying down the law, (fundamentalism anyone?) and who threw thunderbolts from Mount Olympus at unfortunate humanity cowering down below. His ally Prometheus (I follow the Richard Tarnas view that Uranus in action most resembles the Greek god Prometheus) was an innovator who taught humankind the great arts of astrology, science and music.

He also decided that the gods’ fire was just what the human race needed to make them all-wise and powerful (without actually consulting any of them to see if they wanted this equivocal gift!) and proceeded to steal that precious substance, hidden in a fennel-stalk. Unfortunately he got caught and spent eternity chained to a rock having his liver pecked out by an eagle.

As I point out in my book “Jupiter Meets Uranus” ( AFA 2009) the Jupiter/Uranus combination can represent the very best in human aspiration, exploration, inventiveness and the sheer exuberance of being alive. However, arrogant conviction of their own rightness when working together can make this combination inflammatory, hubristic and downright destructive. We should therefore see both the positive and negative sides of this unique conjunction during the Jupiter/Uranus year of 2010/11.

The Jupiter/Uranus combination works out of the ‘left field’ more than any other combination of planetary energies. Its cycle is 14 years long.

In 1969 Man stepped on the Moon for the first time under an exact Jupiter/Uranus conjunction in Libra. In 1983 with the conjunction in Sagittarius, the world’s first artificially made chromosome was created at Harvard University. In February 1997 with the conjunction in Aquarius, Dolly the Sheep, the first cloned animal, was announced to the world.

2010/11 is gradually revealing unique developments too for good and ill: the Large Hadron Collider’s vast experiment and what it may reveal. Craig Venter’s company’s creating of  the first artificial living cell – using highly sophisticated computer technology. The worst man-made oil spill in history. Scientists making hubristic statements about spiritual matters which go inappropriately beyond their reductionist terms of reference. Religious (and anti-religious) fanatics behaving in ways that no-one could have guessed or believed…..

Bring it on, Jupiter/Uranus!

We are waiting with bated breath for more left-field events: with a mixture of  fascination, awe, humour (sometimes if you don’t laugh you just end up crying….) dismay and disbelief. Well, given that Pisces is involved, the word ‘belief” has to feature somewhere….

 

"Jupiter meets Uranus" by Anne Whitaker (2009)

"Jupiter meets Uranus" by Anne Whitaker (2009)

To find up-to-the minute information on ‘Jupiter Meets Uranus’ : New Reviews, Pre-Publication Reviews, Promotional Interviews, etc

AND

many articles on the upcoming Jupiter/Uranus conjunctions of 2010/11

AND

a unique, unfolding research study of the lives of 12 subjects whose ages range from late 20s to early 80s “Tales from the Wild Ride”,

go to

http://jupitermeetsuranus.wordpress.com/

***********************

850 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2010
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

***********************